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  • BabetteHas Gone Missing
  • Becky Mandelbaum (bio)

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[End Page 68]

I wanted to be alone, to have a break from my life, so I applied to an artist residency in the Southwest. I wasn't a writer but had, during a series of bored Sunday afternoons while my husband and sons watched European soccer, strung together enough sentences that a story accidentally formed. The sentences were about a woman named Babette who couldn't decide what to eat for lunch, so she began to eat her family, first their fingers, then their eyes. It was a [End Page 69] disturbing, comedic tale of domestic life, or so wrote the judge who decided I was worthy of two months alone in New Mexico to produce more tales of Babette.

"You're doing what?" asked my husband, John.

"An artist residency."

"Since when are you an artist?"

"Since now, I guess."

"What if I woke up one day and told you I was running away to be a circus clown?"

"I'd be happy for you."

"Is that so?"


"Who's going to take care of the children?"

"I suppose you could."

He squinted at me. It was unusual for me to have something he didn't.

Or perhaps he knew I had applied in part to get away from him.


I kissed my sons goodbye—they were thirteen and fifteen, still mostly animal—and reminded John what day the trash went out. Then I drove my 2012 Camry ten hours west, into the desert. I was happy to leave Kansas and its melodramatic winter. The whole state was like a premenstrual girl, moaning and crying one minute only to emerge clear-eyed and jubilant the next. I was sick of it. What I wanted was constant, reliable sunshine. I wanted a sky that was sure of itself, a sky that was cocky with light. A frat-boy winter.

I was to live alone in a casita that had once belonged to a famous photographer who had died in the bathroom from an aneurysm while straining on the toilet. Undoubtedly, the house was haunted, but the director could have put me in a dumpster and still I would have rejoiced, because the rotting banana peels and yellow-eyed rats would have been all mine.

In fact, the casita was cute, with adobe walls and a neatly made twin bed that spoke of solitude and uninterrupted sleep. No erections poking my back in the middle of the night. No morning breath, no icy toes.

The first thing I did was buy all the food I wanted, knowing nobody else would eat it. A whole cherry pie, a bag of those easy-peel clementines engineered for children, and so many candy bars the lady at checkout told me I was her role model. Then I went home, ate an entire sleeve of Keebler E.L. Fudge Elfwich cookies, and sat down to write. [End Page 70]

What did writers do when they wrote? I imagined moody figures smoking cigarettes, twirling tumblers of whiskey as they bullied a typewriter. I didn't smoke or own a typewriter. What I had was Microsoft Word and an image of Babette—poor, rosy-cheeked Babette—digging a secret bunker beneath the suburban bungalow where she prepared bologna sandwiches and mended her children's clothes. I saw her carving away at the bunker while her family slept peacefully in bedrooms whose cleanliness she maintained. I saw her furnishing the bunker slowly, item by item, with the basic necessities of life—food, water, toilet paper, books. When the day finally came, she would take her cat, Perfect Cat Name, and descend into her bunker to live out the rest of her life in solitude. Every so often, she would emerge in the middle of the night, while her family slept. She would hover above their sleeping bodies, spritz her perfume on their clothes. In the morning, she would press her ear to the bunker's ceiling and wait for them to speak her name.

John called three times that first day. First to ask where we kept the...


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